Returning to the question I posed by Wednesday, we have to consider whether or not the unborn child is actually a person or not. That really is the crux of the matter. If the unborn child is a person, then it is deserving of all protection that every other person receives, including the right not to be killed by someone else exercising their own freedom.
Let me start from something rather uncontroversial. A baby that has already been born is a person. Outside of a few philosophers that I am very glad do not run society, infanticide is largely frowned upon, so I will assume that most of you are willing to grant that babies are indeed people.
Now, I want to ask questions that might differentiate that already born baby from a fetus still in the womb.
Perhaps the difference is based on location. One is located inside the mother while the other is outside the mother. However, that differentiation doesn’t really hold up. After all, the logical extension of this idea is that the premature baby who was born at seven months is somehow a person while the baby who is still inside his or her mother after seven months is not a person. All else is equal except for the location, but the difference of location doesn’t change anything about this child. At no other time does your location or environment affect anything about your value as a person or not.
Perhaps the difference is based on size. Obviously, early in development, the fetus is very small. However, that doesn’t really hold up either as a source of differentiation because it is not as if an adult is more of a person than a child is. A greater degree of personhood doesn’t seem to come with greater size after birth, so there’s no reason to retroactively apply it before birth.
Perhaps the difference is based on dependency. The unborn child would not be able to live without absolute support from the body of the mother. However, with a newborn, there is clearly a high degree of dependence as well, but that newborn is not less of a person than a perfectly independent adult. Again, we don’t divide personhood like that, so it seems irresponsible to do it before birth either.
Maybe we could even talk about level of development as some type of characteristic of differentiation. Do people gain more value or more personhood as they develop through adolescence to adulthood for example? It doesn’t really seem to be the case. We seem to affirm personhood all the way through, so I don’t know that that is a way to differentiate value before birth either.
It is a difficult thing to draw a line where personhood begins if you do not start with the obvious time at conception when the life itself begins. It is a distinct human entity, a member of our species, at that point. Left undisturbed, it will continue to develop naturally into a larger human being as it is genetically programmed to do. Once a certain degree of development takes place, no one will dispute that there is a person, but the question has to come back to when that personhood begins.
I posed a few hypothetical places where you could try to draw the line based on different characteristics, and they don’t really hold up to even basic questioning. The only way to say that any of these characteristics matters is to be inconsistent, and that is a dangerous place to be. It is much more consistent to make the obvious realization that when the life begins, it is a person.
Yes, this is inconvenient because it does mean that there is a life in the balance when talking about abortion and it makes the decision to have an abortion much less attractive because it is the active termination of a human life. However, that is the reality, so we have to decide what we want. Do we want to consistently affirm the right to life for all people, or do we want to continue sacrificing unborn children on the altar of convenience despite the fact that they are people with the right to life just like any one of us?